Are You Going To Eat That? (Part 2)

gladysAccept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval.

In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor Him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead. Romans 14:1-9 (NLT)

If I were going to subtitle this post, the subtitle would be Mind Your Own Business. That being said, I hope you completed your assignment yesterday. I hope you were able to figure out who, at your church, is weak in the faith and who is strong.

Before we check the list, you MUST understand two things.

Paul is not writing about following the explicit rules. There’s no suggestion that anyone in the body of Christ should turn a blind eye to another believer who participates in adultery, is dishonest, or who verbalizes or acts out in hatred. Sadly, we fear “judging” those individuals. If a believer is breaking the rules, the explicit rules, you and I need not judge that individual—the rules judge him or her—and that person is guilty.

Paul isn’t talking about being soft on God’s rules.

Another import point to understand, as I mentioned yesterday, this passage isn’t about theology. Paul, himself, wasn’t above name calling when the Galatian believers’ theology went wrong. Let’s be clear. There is one God and one way for humanity to reach Him—Jesus. To keep this post neat, check out The Apostle’s Creed. The items listed in that creed are not up for debate.

What does that leave us with? The explicit rules and the explicit descriptions of God, His character, Christ and the Holy Spirit aside and you have…well…life. How the believer lives life is the believers business. That sounds snarky, doesn’t it? It’s true—because you and I can’t know our spiritual brother’s or sister’s motives.

Now, take a minute and reflect on the lists you came up with yesterday.

If you made it on the “strong in the faith” list, I have some news that’s going to make you sad. If you are one who feels you belong on the “weak in the faith” list I have good news for you! Remember, I told you yesterday we needed to dissect and understand this. Let me ask you a question, in a debate (if that’s too formal for you, an argument) when is it that you feel strong? As a master-debater, I’ll answer that for you, it’s when you think you’re arguing the “right or correct” side of the argument. In that instance, in your mind, the person opposing you is “weak and wrong.”

So, what do you think the “weak” person thinks about the side he or she is defending? I’m going to tell you, this really convicted me. Looking closely at this passage, as a strong person with a keen sense of justice and blurry sense of mercy, I had to seek forgiveness. If pressed for an answer to the question, “Why are you________” or “Why are you doing _________?” the weaker believer will probably answer, “Because I’m trying to do what’s right.”

In reality, the strong and the weak have the same objective. In the culture of the time, Paul used the debates of diet and Holy Day observance. I wonder what Paul would write about if he sent a letter your church, to my church, to the Church of the 21st century, or to you.

Father, help me check my own motives. Help me examine my own behavior.   Make me quick to seek repentance when I violate Your laws. Help me be gracious and merciful to those I deem “weak in faith.” Help me to mind my own business—to be loving and gracious. Please, make me like You!

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Are You Going To Eat That?

romans 14 2Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval.

In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor Him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead. Romans 14:1-9 (NLT)

In 2016, we can skip over this section of Paul’s letter. Right? In the 21st century, we are enlightened and there’s no need to quibble over such matters as vegetarian verses meat dishes served at the next church pot luck, the food offered to idols and holidays.

OK.

I hope you are on the way to church today. If you are, I hope you think about this passage. I think you’ll find human nature is human nature and although the Church and church goers have evolved in the 1,900 years since Paul wrote this letter, there’s been little fundamental change.  I’ll grant you this, you have not thought about your fellow pew dweller’s spirituality in terms of the food he eats but, have you raised your holy eye brow over any of these topics:

  • The type of music he likes.
  • The translation of the Bible she reads.
  • Whether he brings an actual Bible to church or uses an electronic device.
  • The number of earrings, piercings, or tattoos he or she has.
  • The color(s) of or style of his or her hair.
  • His or Her clothing style.

The list is longer, but you get the idea. We aren’t much different from those first believers and that is sad. This is a complicated passage—one that deserves careful dissection and attention. This passage isn’t about theology. It’s about love, grace and mercy. Personally, I think those topics are more difficult to wrestle with.

So, as you gather together today with other believers, take a quick inventory. Pay attention to the sermon—but while you’re in the lobby, look around at your fellow believers. If you just caught yourself checking my syntax because you call the lobby of your church “the narthex” and not “the lobby,” you’re well on your way to understanding what Paul was writing about in this passage.

Weak or strong, come back tomorrow and we’ll dive into this important subject.

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Are you Wearing That?

wake upThis is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires. Romans 13:11-14 (NLT)

After a morning of working in the yard, mud crusted my shorts, my shirt and my skin. My sweat and an occasional blast from the garden hose kept my clothes flexible. I accomplished a lot of work that day. It was time for a shower. I needed a shower for all the regular reasons—I was dirty. This day I needed a shower, a manicure and some hairdressing. I had a date! We had a party to attend. I wanted to spiff myself up because a special guy thought I was special and asked me to be his companion. Attending the party grubby, with dirt under my fingernails and dirty, sweaty hair would have insulted the host. Not to mention, it would have embarrassed my date. Going to the party in filthy, stinky clothes would have affected how the other partygoers interacted with me.

Sometimes, looks matter.

Love always, good citizenship, the living sacrifice, your reasonable service; why are those things so important? You’ve got a date. If you love Him, you’ll want to put on clean clothes.  If you love Him, you’ll want to act in honorable ways. If you love Him you’ll want to be attractive by doing the good deeds and taking off the dirty clothes of the darkness.

How exciting this is! Does this change your perspective on your Christian life? Being good, choosing goodness, acting in love, using your super power is all preparation for the date you have with Jesus. Paul encourages his readers to take off our dirty clothes and put on our very best outfits!

My college friend and I would spend as much time getting ready to “go out” and we spent “out.” If we had a big night planned, it started early in the afternoon. We’d pick out our outfits. We’d shower. We’d style our hair—sometimes more than once. We’d re-think the outfit and make another selection. We’d do and re-do our makeup. Then we’d re-think the outfit one more time. Can I tell you, this was FUN! We didn’t grumble, complain or stop the preparation just because the first attempt failed. We were so excited about the event—the preparation was exhilarating.

As a believer, as a living sacrifice, the event  you and I are preparing for is an eternity in Jesus’ presence. We need to get ready for that. Paul uses the analogy of changing clothes. That’s interesting. The Holy Spirit can empower us to love supernaturally. God, through the Holy Spirit, gives us supernatural spiritual gifts. We have to make the choice—what are we going to “wear?” How do we prepare for this date?

I’m not going to tell you I’ve never taken clothes off the dirty clothes pile and put them on—I have. When I do that it’s to do some grubby, dirty task. I don’t wear dirty clothes to work, to church, or to a party. More than that, I don’t wear dirty clothes as part of a regular day. The lesson is, if I have the choice and I choose dirty clothes, maybe the activity I’m participating in is “dirty” as well.

As you literally get dressed each day—make the conscious choice about your spiritual clothes as well. You have an important date and you don’t know when He’s going to arrive to pick you up!

Father, as You empower me to love like You do, make me aware of my choices. Help me to choose fresh, clean “clothes”—“outfits” that bring honor to You. Let the excitement of our “date” keep me always striving to look my best. Empower me to make good choices that are filled with light

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The Super Power of the Believer

super powerDon’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The law code—don’t sleep with another person’s spouse, don’t take someone’s life, don’t take what isn’t yours, don’t always be wanting what you don’t have, and any other “don’t” you can think of—finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love. Romans 13:8-10 (MSG)

“When will your student loan be paid off?”  Two or three times a year Terry asks me that question. My response is usually, “About 10 years after I die.” I know I don’t have the largest student loan in the world, but to me it’s insurmountable.

Don’t run up debts—that’s sound advice. Since I have a huge debt, I won’t be giving you any financial advice today. Paul isn’t either.

Paul says we are in debt to each other. I owe you, you owe me— and the debt is huge!

Paul isn’t really writing about money—he’s writing about being superhuman.

In just a few paragraphs Paul outlined our reasonable service and the living sacrifice that each believer owes God for His gracious mercy. That sounds nice—but what does it mean? Never fear, Paul cut right to the heart of the matter giving us a super-human list in Romans 12. Paul continued, extending the believer’s responsibility to society and government. Then he sneaks in verses 8-10.

I’m compelled to misbehave. I’ve written about my character flaw. Perhaps you can relate. When I see a “DO NOT TOUCH” sign, I’m compelled to sneak one little touch. The thing not to be touched most likely would have escaped my notice, had it not been for a sign demanding that I disregard the item’s existence. When I’m presented with a list of “Don’t commands” I immediately begin looking for a way around that list of rules. My heart is fallen. Yours is too.

As believers, I fear we have misrepresented the Christian life to the rest of the world. It’s neat and quick to recite the “sinner’s prayer.” What is the reward we, as believers, often give right after the “amen.” of that prayer? It’s a list of things you can’t do now that you’re a Christian. It’s the list we are trying to master—it should be good enough for the “new guy.”

Christians shouldn’t live in debt. We should not live in debt to a list of rules. We should not live in debt to a bunch of “Don’t commands.” Because of that, Paul offers our fallen hearts a way out. Paul writes, love each other—and you’ll naturally meet the requirements of that list of don’ts. You can’t steal from someone you love. You wouldn’t murder someone you love. You wouldn’t resent someone you love having nice things.   You wouldn’t cheat someone you love. You wouldn’t lie to someone you love. Even if that “someone” is an entity like your employer or the government—if you act in love you’ll be the person, the citizen, the living sacrifice that is pleasing to God.

Yes, sacrifice is the proper word. A living sacrifice acting out his or her reasonable service requires putting others first, acting in unusual ways, being superhuman. Being superhuman is only possible by being supernaturally empowered with God’s Holy Spirit.

Love is the super-power of the believer!

Father, help me act in love when my heart wants me to be selfish. When I’m tired and weak empower me to pay the debt of love I owe to those around me. Help me pay it to those: who can never pay me back, who have a HUGE debt, and who don’t deserve it. Father, let Your Holy Spirit empower me to be superhuman—to love like You love me.

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Politically Incorrect

no matterLet everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Romans 13:1-7(NIV)

It’s an election year here in the United States. It’s an important election year, since the current president has served the maximum 2 terms. That means someone new will be elected this November. I have many Christian friends who are politically active. I have many non-Christian friends who are equally active. Although their views are opposed, the individuals in both groups think they are right.

Since we as human beings can’t agree on which side is “right” this passage gives me a great amount of comfort. The picture I used today seems trite and sounds glib, but I believe it. This passage confirms that belief. The believer prayerfully, purposefully and responsibly should participate in the political process of his or her government. Regardless of the outcome—the believer has a reasonable service—trust God and act in love.

I know what you’re thinking. What happens when your candidate doesn’t win? What happens when the “wrong” person is elected? Certainly, Paul is writing about good leaders and not being submissive to evil leaders.

Don’t forget Paul wasn’t writing in a social vacuum. Paul had some political opposition. A few years after writing this letter, Paul would write other letters from a Roman prison. Paul wasn’t writing to people who lived under a pleasant, favorable rule. He wasn’t writing to people who elected their candidates. Paul wasn’t writing to people who had a voice in their political process. Paul was writing to people who lived under oppressive, evil, perverted and tyrannical rule. Being a Christian was not “easy” in Rome.

As a continuation of the difficult commands in the previous chapter, Paul continues the list of reasonable service and includes being a good citizen on the list. Respecting the authority God put in place; because God knows who the leader of the country is and God allowed that person to hold the office. In God’s sovereignty, He can use holy “good” leaders and terrible “bad” leaders to accomplish His plan. Paul equates rebelling against government authority with rebelling against God.

God wants you and me to trust Him.

What about the “hating evil” Paul just wrote about? Can’t I hate the evil leader that might be elected in my country, or in yours? I think it’s important to keep reading. It’s easy to stop at the word “evil” and not read, “bless those who persecute you.” Hating people is never ok.

This living sacrifice stuff has to apply outside of the walls of our homes and churches. Believers have to be distinct in all their interactions. Love has to be the driving force of the believer—in all his or her interactions. Paul moves from one-on-one interactions to Christian-in-society interactions in this section, but all the same rules apply.

First, trust God. Second, act in love.

Father, help me trust you when I don’t understand the situations I find myself in. Help me to rely on Your strength and the power of the holy Spirit to make me a good citizen. Help Your love to shine through my actions.

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Dying to be Transformed

transformation

  • Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.
  • Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.
  • Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.
  • Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.
  • Rejoice in our confident hope.
  • Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.
  • When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.
  • Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.
  • Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.
  • Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!
  • Never pay back evil with more evil.
  • Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 
  • Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
  • Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. (For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are    thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.”)
  • Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. Romans 12:9-21 (NLT)

I put the last half of Romans 12 into a tidy list—perfect for Monday.

I like lists. I can check off my tasks and move along with my day. I rarely complete a list from top to bottom. Sometimes I prioritize the list but usually I work though the list in the natural progression of events.

I think it’s easy to forget the book of the Bible we know as Romans was a letter without chapter breaks and without verse numbers. Those numbers make it easy to find a specific passage but, sometimes, I think those numbers get in the way of reading the letter.

I don’t know about you, but putting Romans 12 into a list makes it seem more daunting than when I read those words in paragraph form! If this isn’t intimidating enough, remember this list isn’t just a bunch of good ideas, it’s God’s will for the believer. This is part of the transformation.

If you’re ready to throw in the towel, if simply reading this list exhausts you, let me encourage you. This list is superhuman.  If you can’t wrap your mind around how you can live like this don’t forget chapters 6-8 of Romans. Those chapters might be worth some review. YOU can’t live out this list—fully or consistently—on your own.

Have you ever told God you were ready? Ready to be sold-out, 100% His, willing to be used for whatever purpose He has in store—and then, as you say, “Amen.” you open your eyes and see the person at church you can’t stand. The person who bugs you because he or she is so different, so uninformed, so… something. You see, I know. I’ve done it. I’ve ignored evil rather than hating it. I’ve patted goodness on the head rather than be its champion. I’ve served out of compulsion. I’m impatient. I’ve worried instead of praying. I’ve ignored the needy and hoarded the things I’ve been blessed with. I’ve steeled my soul. I’ve distanced myself from others. I’ve plotted revenge. I’ve toyed with evil and given in. You have, too. That is unfortunately human nature—fallen human nature.

Being a living sacrifice isn’t easy. I’m going to go one step further and admit it’s impossible in my own strength to do almost everything on this list. As eagerly as I crawl up on the altar, crawling down is easier. In spite of my dismal admission, God loves me. Not only does He love me, but because He sees the past, present and future as one scene, He knows what I can become. He sees me with Christ superimposed over my failures. He knows what the Holy Spirit can do with my gifts.   He knows He’s changing me. He knows I’m learning.

If you look at the list and feel inferior. Let me help you—you are. God isn’t.

This is radical living at its best. This is love in action. This isn’t feeling. This goes beyond emotion. The actions on this list spring from gratitude—gratitude for all the things God’s done for me. This impossible list is my reasonable service in God’s eyes.

If you’re afraid you can’t do it, join the club.   If you can outline your list of failures, let’s make an agreement. Agree with me that you and I are both: incapable, unable, outclassed, helpless, and even wretched. Having admitted that, let’s change. Let’s be transformed. God doesn’t want a bunch of wretched, helpless followers. He wants living sacrifices.

The good news is there was only one perfect sacrifice—Jesus—He died to make us holy. We are called to die to self—to be transformed into His likeness.

“Die” with me today.

Father, help me die to myself each day—not in perfection but in willingness to be transformed into Christ’s likeness. Don’t let my failures stop me from becoming the living sacrifice You want me to be. Teach me to rely on Your strength and Your love when I fail. Increase my faith and trust in Your ability to transform me into a pleasing sacrifice. When I want to crawl off the altar, give me the power to stay put and be transformed.

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All You Need Is Love (and Some Faith)

all you needDon’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.  Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.  Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.  Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them.  If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.”

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. Romans 12:9-21 (NLT)

I haven’t mastered this yet. Perhaps it’s because I’m not fully convinced of the title. It seems a bit squishy for me. I’m perfectly willing to leave loving to those touchy-feely people. I’ve got things to accomplish. That is how I’ve always felt. If you get a good feeling from your actions—that’s a bonus—feelings certainly aren’t the motivation for actions in my eyes or in God’s.

I’m being blunt and harsh. Honestly, I’m a bit softer but not much. Love is a tough thing. Americans and English speakers throw the word love around. The list of things I love is long. I love: Jesus, my husband, my friends, my dog, the eye shadow I purchased last week, and the cup of coffee I’m drinking. I love to watch movies, working in the garden and gazing at the stars. I love the warmth of the summer sun.   I don’t think that’s what Paul is wrote about. I don’t think that’s what God meant.

The question comes down to this. Is love enough?

The theme throughout scripture indicates it really is. Jesus summed up the Old Testament rules with a single sentence. We call it The Golden Rule. When the snarky Pharisees tried to trap Jesus, He told them the greatest commandment is to love God and then love everyone else.  When Paul was trying to straighten out the misguided believers at Corinth, Paul explained what love is and, if one had to choose; love is the greatest. Even The Beatles understood love is all you need.

When love is hard to give, when the object of my love is unlovable and unlike me—the command is to love. Not just pretend to love but to love genuinely, without pretense. That is not a feeling. That is an action. Maybe that’s where we’ve missed the proverbial bull’s eye.

As a follower of Christ, I’m called to love—love like Jesus loved me. That is not natural. That is going to take some supernatural intervention. Loving like Jesus loves is going to require sacrifice. Not necessarily the sacrifice of my money or time, those things are easy to give—but sacrificing my place in line and my seat on the throne. Loving like a living sacrifice is going to take action when my emotions don’t necessarily engage. It’s going to take seeing people with Christ’s eyes. It’s going to take work, faith, patience, and hope.

It’s going to take sacrifice.

The odd thing about sacrifice—sacrifice requires the very thing I unwilling to give. Money is easy to give. Time, although a precious commodity for me, is easy to give for the “right” reason. Giving me—that’s a different story—THAT requires sacrifice. Paul, not so subtly, reminds me being a living sacrifice is my reasonable service—it’s not the extraordinary command I want to think it is.

Paul tells us genuine love is all we need. That simple sentence requires supernatural action. It takes faith. Faith that God really means what He says. Faith that God can use the failures I bring to Him for His glory. Faith that God can pick up my slack. Faith that God has the power to work all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose—to show His love to the lost and fallen world.

Faith is the key to genuine love. It’s the key that unlocks the door. It’s the key the ignites the engine’s starter. It’s the key that opens the treasure chest of God’s blessing. Faith in God’s love guarantees my salvation. Faith in God’s love stimulates my service. Faith in God’s power empowers me to love when I can’t do it on my own.

All I need to do is love and all I need to have is some faith.

Father, help me trust You to empower me to love. Give me Your love for those around me. I will offer myself to You as a living sacrifice. I’ll be Your hands and feet—I will love because You loved me first. When I feel selfishness well up in my heart, please, remind me of Your selfless sacrifice for me. Supernaturally help me to live out my living sacrifice.

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The Thin Line

love and hateDon’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.  Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.  Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.”

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. Romans 12:9-21 (NLT)

First of all, rest assured, I’m writing to myself. A couple weeks ago, I wrote that it would feel like Paul is meddling. Here it is, and this is only the beginning. There is no accusation in these verses. After a brief reminder on thoughtfulness—not the being kind sort of thoughtfulness—but the reflective kind, Paul reminds us not to fool ourselves.  Paul calls us out to be sure we’ve taken a full inventory. Only you can answer the questions Paul raises in this next section.

Don’t just pretend.

COME ON! It’s not enough to be nice to those individuals I don’t like? It’s not enough to help only when it’s convenient? It’s not enough to simply ignore the people I don’t care for?

This is hard!

It’s difficult because it’s not natural. If you’ve ever wondered what supernatural is; this is it. This goes beyond my natural ability to intact with those around me. This is the above-and-beyond call—it’s supernatural. Remember all that stuff in The Sermon on the Mount—all of that is what the first two sentences of this passage sum up—don’t pretend, really love.

I don’t know about you, but pretending is easier than loving—GUILTY AS CHARGED—put the cuffs on and take me away! Unfortunately, God isn’t impressed or looking for only my good conduct. You see, most of the time, I can pull off good conduct. I’m a good person. I’m fun. I’m nice. I help out. That isn’t the point. I’m going to be honest—painfully honest—there are people I choose to ignore rather than love.

These verses highlight an important distinction we as believers must understand. There isn’t much difference between love and hate. The Persuaders sang about how thin the line is that divides love and hate. When I honestly evaluate my heart, I realize I have a long way to go. There are some people in the world I genuinely love. There are a few, really evil people, I might hate (come on—I know it’s not just me). For the vast majority of people—it’s pure apathy and ambivalence—quite frankly, I just don’t care. That’s how I let myself off the hook. I don’t hate other people but I don’t love them either. Sadly, not caring is not enough.

This being crucified with Christ, this living sacrifice, is an all or nothing proposition. Loving people and hating evil, takes more than I have to give. There’s no room in the believer’s life of apathy. Honestly, for most of my life, I’ve settled for it. I’ve settled because apathy is easier than caring. Pretending is easier than doing.

I’ll let you decide where you fall.

Now do you see the need for supernatural help?

Did the struggle you’ve had with your Christian life suddenly come into sharp focus?

It’s about love and hate. There is no room for apathy. Love people, hate evil, live sacrificially. It really isn’t about the rules and how well you can or can’t follow them. The Christian life is about aiming for the goal Christ set and achieved. The Christian life is about never giving up that pursuit of Christ-likeness. It isn’t about comparing your behavior to a list of rules. It isn’t about mustering up the will power to do things you don’t feel like doing in the name of Christianity. It’s about transformation—the supernatural transformation the Holy Spirit makes in the believer’s life when he or she lays down on the altar and says, “Make me like You, Jesus.”

Father, forgive my apathetic heart. Let the fire of Your love for me ignite the fire of love in my heart. Help me to love others. Help me hate what is evil. Create a new heart in me—one that is loving and active. Thank You for Your love and Your sacrifice.

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Thinking or Faith: Which is It?

thinkerFor I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sound judgment, according to the measure of faith God has distributed to every man. For just as we have many parts in one body, and not all parts have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and all are parts of one another. We have diverse gifts according to the grace that is given to us: if prophecy, according to the proportion of faith; if service, in serving; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with generosity; he who rules, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:3-8 (MEV)

Today’s brainteaser: Does the believer function by faith or reason? Faith and reason—how do those things coexist? I get comments on this blog from self-proclaimed atheists. Although the comments are different, there is one common theme and it goes like this; I prefer reason to faith. The unstated part of that comment is, that makes me better/smarter than you, you silly Christian.

I don’t spend a lot of time rebutting the comments—it’s not worth trying to “win” an argument when the other party is only interested in arguing. Those comments do make me think. I think, as believers, it’s easy to know what we know, think everyone else knows it too and then just go about our lives wondering why the unsaved don’t get it.   What do I mean? I’m still dumbfounded when I meet someone who doesn’t know what Easter really celebrates. I have to check my quizzical facial expression and stop myself from asking for a proof text when those around me spout some Biblical truth—that is not in the Bible—like God helps those who help themselves.

Over the years I’ve known many believers who seem afraid to think about their faith.

What is faith? Why does Paul bring it up at the end of the sentence in which he uses the word “think” three times? If faith to you is a feeling—Paul’s sentence is probably confusing. If you think faith is a feeling, you’re probably confused, and discouraged about your gracious gift and what God meant for you to do with it. According to Paul, if you’re a believer, God gave you at least one gift and the measure of faith you’d need to use it.

People fall into two very broad categories: thinkers and feelers. Thinkers are those who attempt to reason out circumstances and calculate outcomes—they are the black and white people of the world—necessary and annoying all at the same time. Feelers are those who approach things from that squishy, touchy-feely sort of approach—they are necessary and annoying as well. People in both categories are necessary in the body. Each has the same call—act in reason AND in faith.

Regardless of which group you find yourself in—God says act in faith. Reason out your “part” and identify the gift God has given you, then have faith. That sounds nice and churchy, doesn’t it? Right now, I’d wager, the thinkers are formulating an action plan and the feelers are afraid they’ll get something wrong because that command is rather vague.

Here’s some comfort for all of us—God is the object of our faith.

If your faith is in your gift and your ability to “make it work” you’ll find yourself stifled by the memory of times when YOU weren’t enough, when you didn’t have enough in your own strength. If your faith is in your feeling about the circumstances surrounding the expression of your gift, your gift’s expression will be stunted since there is no promise that the Christian life will be easy. In fact, Jesus promised just the opposite. If your faith is in the function of the body itself, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re old enough you’ll understand exactly what I mean—I count on my body to function just like it did when I was twenty.  My physical body lets me down all the time. The parts of the body, for whatever reason, don’t all function at the same level. If your faith is in those parts—I promise you disappointment and discouragement.

When God is the object of your faith—He is the one who orchestrates and empowers the gifts. When you align your thinking with His will for you, He makes it “work.” That faith in God’s ability to do what He said He would do should empower the believer to act—not in his or her strength—but in God’s strength and power. Faith in God’s ability to understand all of the circumstances in any event should make the believer bold. Faith in God’s loving care and gracious gift should cause the believer to trust that God gave her “the right” gift and sacrificially submit her will to God’s leading.

Faith in God’s grace and mercy should cause each believer to respond as living sacrifices.

Think about that.

Father, when I’m tempted to over think Your will for me, help me to act in faith that You have plan and the power to carry it out. When I’m tempted to allow my feelings to dictate my actions, help me act in faith that You know and have the power to work out the details in any situation. Teach me to think and to feel with You as the object of my thoughts and feelings. Teach me to act as part of Your body.

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Everyone is Equal and Essential

body_diagram_400Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In His grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Romans 12:4-8 (NLT)

The car door slammed shut. As I walked away, I felt a tug. I shut my sweater in the door, I thought. As I turned, I saw my thumb in the door, crushed. After a trip to the emergency room, I had a pin in my thumb—my right thumb. The fact that it was my right thumb is important. I’m very right-handed. I often tell people, “My left hand is purely ornamental.”

For eight weeks, a pin immobilized my thumb. I re-learned how to do the things I needed to do. Writing was the biggest challenge but I figured out how to hold a pen. My penmanship wasn’t great—and it usually is but at least I could write.

Paul uses a great example in this passage. Everyone reading it knows what it’s like to have some part of his or her body malfunction. Injury or illness is something to which every person can relate. You’re familiar with it—have a sore finger for just one day and you begin to realize how often you bump your hand over the course of the day. Spend a day or two in bed with a cough and you begin to realize how much your take your lungs for granted.

Paul outlines the practical application of what being a living sacrifice looks like. It begins with having an honest estimation of yourself—not too proud and not too humble—but fully aware of God’s empowerment and gifts. Remember your role in the equation is living sacrifice. It’s God’s power that makes it happen.

Everyone has an equal and essential part to play in the body.

Everyone

There is no opting out. If you are a believer, the call is the same. “I beseech you therefore…” is the grand King James Version opening to Romans 12. Paul is begging the believer to understand. In light of what God has done for you, there is no other response but to offer yourself back to God in service. Being a living sacrifice is an act of love and gratitude.

In American society, sacrifice has fallen out of vogue. Comfort is the driving force behind most actions. Keep reading and I hope you’ll come to understand that being a living sacrifice is not only comfortable—it’s exciting.

Equal

The body is made up of many parts. The parts find their purpose not on their own, but in reference to the entire body. Your body works because all of its parts work together. Sickness, impairment, and injury make that apparent. No part of the body is better than any other part—each part has a specific function—the activity it does best. That makes every, single part equal in its purpose because its purpose is related to the entire body and not to the part alone.   God equally accepts the living sacrifice that each individual has to offer. God doesn’t discount your living sacrifice because He’s waiting for the “better living sacrifice” from someone else.

Essential

Because all parts are equal—all parts are essential. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking—there are parts of the body one can live without. That’s true—I work in the operating room and we remove parts all day long. We remove sick parts so the patient can survive. Sometimes removing a chunk of skin or an appendix seems to have no effect on the person’s overall life. Once removed that part is gone—it ceases to function and the body now has to function without it. That’s not how the body was supposed to function.

I figured out a way to hold a pen and write without using my thumb as my thumb was healing but it wasn’t the same as holding my pen “the correct way.” If there are body parts missing or not functioning—the body will usually continue to work—but it is often not optimal or comfortable.  If you have functioning digits, picking up a pen and writing is automatic—you don’t even think about what you’re doing.

If you aren’t doing your part in the body, someone else has to pick up the slack. That member has to function in a way that may be unnatural for him or her. That makes serving difficult. That makes serving seem like sacrifice. If you are a believer, you have a part to play in the body—a part that is natural for you—a part that is essential for the body. It’s your living sacrifice. Because God tailored it for you, it is natural and should be exhilarating.

YOU have a purpose in God’s plan! YOU—yes! YOU!

Every believer, everyone has an equal and essential part to play in the body. Here’s how The Message paraphrases Paul’s words.

Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of His body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t. (MSG)

That is how your living sacrifice is supposed to work.

Father, help me function the way You planned for me to function. I give myself to You as a living sacrifice. In Your power and strength, I’ll function for the good of the body.

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